Guild Wars 2: We now pause for this brief intermission

end2Let me tell you, I could get used to this “wrapping up games” approach to playing MMOs. Two days of buckling down in Guild Wars 2 rewarded me with getting my Ranger through the last four chapters of season 2. With its conclusion, I feel quite content parking my character until Heart of Thorns comes out. Sure, I’ve got world completion to do, but I’d rather save that for when it might be earning me mastery points as well.

So. Season 2. I think most players would agree with me when I say that it was a step in the right direction after the weirdly fragmented season 1. There was a story that progressed, two new zones added, and a few interesting (but not genuinely compelling) mechanics added. The rewards were good, including the carapace armor and a free Black Lion chest key (which got me one of the new rare dyes). There was good use of secondary character development and a few good twists that I didn’t see coming.

end1Yet for all of that, season 2 wasn’t fun. It’s probably why I’ve been dragging my feet so long on completing it, because I felt as though I had to instead of wanted to. If I had to sum up my biggest complaints into a short list, it would be this:

  1. It was a small story that was spread over too much territory. Even worse, it only served to gap the end of season 1 with the start of the expansion, so there wasn’t any strong resolution.
  2. Fighting plant-based creatures sucks. Oh yes, please knock me down again. Please vomit an endless stream of red circles. Let me whack away at a vine and not get the eerie feeling as though I’m playing some sort of aggressive gardening simulator.
  3. While new zones are appreciated, neither of them were visually appealing and exciting to explore. Plus, the less said about GW2’s fixation with platforming, the better.

Again, I feel that Guild Wars 2’s narrative strength is in telling smaller, personal stories, such as with the earlier quests of the personal storyline or the occasional well-done event. I saw flashes of this in season 2 — the noble party, a character’s death, the reprise of Guild Wars 1’s ascension quest — but most of the run assumed that we’d be in awe of the return of the plant dragon and content to see things play out on a huge scale. At least for me, the larger it got, the more disconnected I felt. A big attack on the Pact’s base wasn’t a goosebump-raising moment but a tiresome slog through a slowly scripted encounter.

At least my distaste for the plant elves is warranted. I’ve seen some people a little irked that the Sylvari keep coming up as primary characters and villains, but really as long as ArenaNet’s going to continue on with the plant motif, that’s going to happen. Maybe the expansion will wrap up this focus and finally move us on to something else.

I ended up abandoning my longbow in favor of a shortbow for most encounters. Actually, I would have preferred to stick with my greatsword, but many fights seemed to favor a ranged approach due to nasty red circles and the necessity to strafe. Still, I’m looking forward to having a staff with the expansion, and I hope that it doesn’t take too much work to get to that point.

At least season 2 is done and that’s one more thing off my plate. Onward and upward!

GW2: A feather in my hair

outfitMy Guild Wars 2 focus has shifted back to my Ranger — I think it’s the thought of having a staff-fighting druid in the expansion that’s the big appeal, as well as my fondness for my pet pig named Monkey. Unfortunately, Dawnbreak Wild needs some work; she didn’t have her ascended trinkets/necklace yet, so that was a trip to the laurel vendor to spend my growing horde of tokens.

One of the things that bugs me about medium armor-wearing classes in GW2 is the weird trenchcoat fetish that ArenaNet has. Practically every chest piece is a coat of some kind, and frankly I wanted just a normal shirt/pants combo. The above was the closest I could get, which actually ended up pretty cool since I could show off my bodacious tattoos.

She has a bunch of world exploration left to do, but that’s on the backburner until I can get her through season 2. I’ve been trying to make it a priority to at least get her through a single mission every day as of late, trying to catch her up to and then surprass my Necro’s progress. This is hampered by my growing weariness of the season 2 storyline, but oh well, this too shall pass.

Yesterday’s patch was a pleasant quality-of-life update. Yay for the first-person camera view for screenshots, although why ArenaNet still felt it was necessary to only make it accessible via a checkable option (that comes with a dire tooltip warning, natch) instead of just putting it in the game like every other MMO out there, I have no idea. It kind of feels like they put it into the game grudgingly instead of happily, but that’s probably reading into it a little much.

I was disappointed to see that my Engineer didn’t end up with 100% world completion after the patch, even with the change to WvW. I was sure I had completed every zone (and had received rewards as such), but my progress in a few of them has been dinged down to 99% or 98% as new points of interest or hearts have popped up. Don’t know what that’s about, but I guess it’s not too much of a hassle.

It IS super-nice that now you can hover your cursor over the map icons to see where all of the unexplored/unfinished objectives are — that helps tremendously, and will be a great boon when my Ranger gets back to world exploration. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be perfectly working; sometimes it’ll flash unexplored ones, sometimes it tells you to go talk to a scout, sometimes… nothing.

worldFinally. You can’t make me do WvW, not now, not ever.

GW2: Plants vs. Dragons

sol1I’ve actually been making good progress catching up in Guild Wars 2’s season 2, although I’m still like four months behind the rest of the crowd.  As I’m saying, “Oh, this Silverwastes place is pretty cool!” the GW2 community looks at me with derision.  “No duh, scrub.”

Really, I just want it done so that it’s done and not because I’m so caught up in a story of plants and dragons.  To tell you the truth, if you were pointing a pistol at my head and asked me to regurgitate the narrative to this point, there would be a lot of stammering and fragmented sentences.  “Uh, so there’s this underground plant dragon that this one plant-girl woke up… and the plant started showing up everywhere… oh! plant wolves that are annoying to fight… and everyone gets together to agree that the plant dragon is bad… and the plants attack a big tree, which is kind of weird because, y’know, they’re both plants… and then Superman’s Fortress of Solitude reveals that there’s a dragon egg, which is important for some reason, but another crazy plant girl steals the egg… and Asura were kind of jerks to the plant people.”

I would be dead in seconds.  Alas for Syp.

That’s where I’m at.  Instead of tracking my progress by story, I’ve been mentally logging my journey by what obstacles I had to overcome that day.  It’s a close call between the thorny maze and the whole stealth mission as the most annoying I’ve played in this game.  I’m sure there will be a jumping puzzle before long.

sol2On the upside, it does seem as though there’s a bigger effort to produce an epic multi-part saga, and I have been taking screenshots like crazy as I visit all sorts of incredible set pieces.  But probably the most impressive was just hanging out at the war-torn Silverwastes, where it feels a little more dynamic than other spots in the game.  I was tasked to find clues around one fort, and while I was there it came under siege by computer enemies, who then blew open a hole in a wall.  As I and other players rushed to push back the bad guys, I felt myself nodding in respect for the game surprising me in a good way.

I do have to ask: Are all Sylvari evil?  It’s kind of personally hilarious to see how many of them are crazy, jerks, or deeply hated by the playerbase.  Maybe ArenaNet decided to make them the butt monkeys of Guild Wars 2, which is surprising considering that they’re the Elf stand-ins.

I’ve also been playing my Necro as a 100% minion master these days.  It might not be the most efficient (and I miss my wells), but it’s a sheer load of fun to see my army swarm all over bad guys and have them panic for a change.

I only have a few more missions to go to wrap up this storyline, at which point I’ll either be free to go dormant until Heart of Thorns’ release or to work on map exploration (but maybe that should wait until I can put that XP to masteries?).

Digesting the Guild Wars 2 expansion announcement

babeSo no big surprise — Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns is an expansion — but good news nonetheless.  As a mostly lapsed GW2 player right now, I’m mostly on the fringes of the excitement hurricane going on.  I mean, I’m terribly happy for those for whom GW2 is their only game and this is major.  But I’m evaluating the news from the perspective of a former regular player who is asking the question, “What is in here that is worth returning for?”

For the record, I think that there is enough here to prompt that renaissance (and perhaps get me to actually finish Season 2), but it isn’t all sunshine and deadly flowers.  Here are a few thoughts sorted from thumbs up, neutral, and thumbs down.

Thumbs Up

  • New Revenant class looks somewhat awesome, although with heavy armor, the only new class in the xpack, and summoning components, it will definitely be in danger of being overplayed and perhaps overpowered.
  • Guild Halls.  That will certainly be a welcome feature to get together with guildies for fun and mutual projects.  It also addresses a huge oversight going from GW1 to GW2.
  • Profession specializations.  I think this alone has me the most excited, especially for people who want to stick with their class but also desire additional progression or variety.  Not entirely sure if each class will have just one specialization or more than one from which to choose.  In any case, it’d be cool to see my Engineer or Necro change it up somewhat.
  • More open world zones to explore.  The world should be constantly expanding, as Tyria is such a huge place and we’ve been confined to a relatively small portion of it in GW2 so far.
  • Hang gliding.  I’m down with this.  The mastery system does sound intriguing as a way to gain new abilities, although it sounds as though these abilities will be used to overcome new obstacles.  So it’s a zero sum system?  Maybe I’m misunderstanding it.

Neutral

  • Guild Wars 2 has failed to blow up my skirt with its story, either from the base game or the first two seasons.  No reason to expect that the expansion will actually get interesting, but I’m always willing to be proven wrong!
  • It’s not free.  That’s fair, but I know some people were hoping that Anet would be pumping out a free expansion for whatever reason.
  • No mounts.  I do NOT get why this is one of those weird design decisions that Anet has decided to die on a hill for.  Not having them in this world is bizarre, and including them would make a lot of people happy.  It should’ve happened.  So, you have high-tech airships and add hang gliders… but no horses?
  • More ways to get precursor weapons via questing.  I’ve long since given up on chasing the legendary weapon pony, so this is a non-feature for me, but it’s not a bad thing for those who care about it.
  • More PvP and WvW stuff.  Totally outside of my sphere of interest, and therefore completely neutral additions.
  • ArenaNet was hyping this announcement as something more than an expansion, as something that would go beyond the living story and be… I dunno, revolutionary?  I don’t want to put words in their mouth, but that was the general angle.  And the reveal, while nice, is merely an expansion — nothing more and nothing less.
  • My biggest wish list item — being able to get to 100% world exploration by not having to go into WvW — wasn’t addressed anywhere that I saw.  Shame, especially with new zones.

Thumbs Down

  • No new races.  This was a surprising disappointment, especially considering just how many potential races there are in the game and how much time has been spent between the community and the devs on it.
  • Guilds get housing, but players are still saddled with these pathetic home instances that have zero customization?  I’m happy for guilds and all, but if I had my druthers, I would have prioritized player housing (plus, what if a player doesn’t want to be in a guild?).
  • More jungle zones.  Not… my favorite biome, as they’re usually confusing to navigate and busy on the eyes.  Only slightly above lava and desert zones in my opinion.  Also, at least one of these zones is “more vertical” than normal, which means lots more annoying GW2 platforming.

Of course, there’s a lot we don’t know and I’m sure Anet is holding back so it has something to talk about in the coming months.  But as it stands, I’m interested if not overwhelmed.

Guild Wars 2’s wall of corpses strategy

corpsesWith word that an expansion (Heart of Thorns) is most likely on the way, there’s been some extra incentive out there to pull me back into Guild Wars 2 and see if I can overcome my living world boredom to knock out the rest of season 2.  My Necro just got into Silverwastes and spent a mission fighting plant-wolves (one theme with this game is that minions have to mimic their elder dragon boss, so plant dragon equals plant critters, and undead dragon equals undead sharks and the like).

The mission seemed out to shove my face into the ground as often as possible, as I would die about three seconds into any given fight (although, yes, I understood that using mines to blow up the packs were a better solution when available).  But it made me think a lot about the combat in GW2 and how I’ve previously defended it by saying that it was a good mix of old-school hotbar action (complete with auto-attacks) and this action combat trend that’s plaguing titles like WildStar and The Secret World.

I’m no longer sure if this is the best marriage between the systems, although it may be the only serious attempt that I’ve seen to straddle the line.  A lot of it comes down to the feel — when combat feels great in GW2, like when I’m swinging a gigantic broadsword with meaty thunks, it can be a hoot.  When it feels as though I’m taking teeny eeny bits of health away from an enemy while the bad guy eats my life away in gigantic chunks, it’s more frustrating than not.

I initially praised the downed system as a neat way to give players a chance at a comeback in a fight, although now I see that system as absolutely necessary due to how fragile characters can be.  As with Guild Wars 1, character health in Guild Wars 2 isn’t some long line that is chipped away at, but rather a limited resource that’s always dipping up and down dramatically.  Even more dramatically when you play a squishy light armor class, I’ll grant.

I very much like how the auto-attack is a serious and somewhat rapid (depending on the weapon) skill instead of a once-in-a-while filler between special attacks.  The animations and weapon designs are mostly spot-on, with different races even boasting their own moves (which is a nice touch).  And with the hotbar set up as it is, there’s just enough skills to make a fight varied without overcluttering.

On the flip side — and speaking of cluttered — is how a battlefield can get downright ugly and impossible with dozens of overlapping red circles (the poop you’re not supposed to stand in) and other various negative effects.  I’ve been in too many fights where there’s just nowhere to dodge because everywhere is bad and the circles hit you for so dang hard.

And I don’t know about you, but ArenaNet’s much-vaunted cross-class skill combos are hardly ever seen (or at least noticed) in group fights.  That was a good idea that had a faulty transition to the live game because it’s quite difficult to visually understand what’s going on and be able to coordinate between two or more characters to pull off a combo attack.  There’s just too much in the way of screen clutter.

For story missions, more often than not I keep throwing my corpses at the bad guys, because I have unlimited lives and resurrections and they do not.  It reminds me of a scene from The Gamers: Dorkness Rising when the Bard realizes that he can keep coming back to life, and thus builds up a wall of his own corpses to beat the enemy.

Is this the way that GW2 intended me to fight these epic battles, with a wall of corpses strategy?  I would hope not, because in reality it comes off as cheap and… well, silly.  Oh, I’ll do it because it gets the win sooner or later, but I don’t feel victorious at the end.  I don’t feel as though I attained any sort of combat mastery.  I’ve just worn them down through the attrition granted to me by immortality.

So just like how GW2 attempts to sit on the fence between the two big styles of MMO combat, so I’m on the fence after a couple of years of playing as to whether I like it or not.  #wishywashy